Sharpening continued…and other fun stuff!

In my last post, I introduced the sharpening process and described my first footsteps into its intricacies (yes, I had to look this one up to make sure).  The study is going well, but there’s an amazing amount of information to digest.  I am surprised by the number of tools available.  Unsharp Mask, for example, has its roots in film photography, where wet-darkroom magicians would use a duplicate negative to create a mask to increase the apparent sharpness of a photographic print by increasing contrast along edges.  From the descriptions I read, it was quite a process.  Other digital sharpening tools in Photoshop include Smart Sharpen and Shake Reduction.  Of course, the flip side of digital sharpening is the introduction of digital noise.  (Noise is the grainy appearance of a photograph, and is beyond the scope of this blog, so we’ll save it for another day.)  Lightroom and Camera Raw’s sharpening and noise reduction tools work the same way – very easy to use, and the Nik filters have Define (for noise reduction) and Sharpener (for sharpening).  My head is swimming.

In a feeble attempt to keep myself somewhat sane (those who know me will attest that it’s as good as we can expect) while I’m learning sharpening, I’m still out there looking for great subjects and trying new techniques.  Here’s a few pictures from the last couple weeks.

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Okay, this isn’t really a new technique for me, but it’s fun and worthy of continued exploration. For this image, I overlaid a picture of the Ward Charcoal Ovens onto a picture of a wood floor (beautiful texture). I’m looking for a little constructive critique (CC), please!

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This is a Merlin, and it’s the latest capture in my quest for new raptor species. (Recall that I also got a Northern Harrier and a Rough Legged Hawk this year.) Merlins are in the Falcon family, and only get to about 12″ tall with a 25″ wingspan – just a little bigger than a Kestrel. This little one was in a tree in my neighbor’s yard and, uncharacteristically, sat for me for several minutes.

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My lovely bride was with me the other day and she is an excellent spotter. She saw this Great Horned Owl in a tree as we drove by. Some of my friends thought it was a Long Eared Owl, but my resident expert on bird identification confirmed Great Horned (thanks Larry!).

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Because I like to explore with different filters during processing, I used a vintage colors filter in Nik Silver Efex for this interpretation. This filter is one of my favorites

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Okay, this is a new technique called focus stacking. I mounted the camera on a tripod and locked it down. I took 5 images of these crabapples on a tree in our backyard, each image using a different focal plane (focusing at different levels) and blended them in Photoshop to create this image with all the crabapples in focus. I’ll refine my focus stacking workflow and use it on flowers this summer!

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While I was making images for focus stacking, I made this image of an ‘about to drip’ from another crabapple tree in the backyard. When I downloaded these images to the computer, I noticed the inverted tree in pretty good focus. I tried to get closer, but I would have bumped the tree and dislodged the drip. I’ll take it for now, but will look for other drips to shoot.  Aren’t optics fun?

Well, that’s it for this blog.  Stay tuned for more info on sharpening, focus stacking, and macro.  Until next time – enjoy!

PHOTOROGR

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Breaking in a new kind of whet stone…

I can hardly believe that it’s already the first day in February!  Tomorrow, the Groundhog comes out and we’ll see just how much longer we’re going to have winter – at least according to folklore.  I’m betting we’re going to have more winter, partially because a big storm is coming into the Carson Valley tonight!  Speaking of folklore, many of you have spent the last month trying to sustain the new year’s resolutions you made.  I didn’t make any, nor did I set any specific goals for my photography.  As I’ve continued my photographic journey, I’ve found that my best goal is to look for and be ready to pursue knowledge as I find new things.

In my last post, I announced that I was taking a winter photography course.  The snow was deep and our outdoor shooting time was shorter than expected.  The instructor was excellent – we shifted the program indoors to study light and shadow and photo processing techniques, which brings me to the ‘new kind of whet stone.’  Us old Boy Scouts remember that a whet stone is used to sharpen knives and axes.  In the digital photography world, we use software as a ‘whet stone’ to sharpen our images.  During the workshop, we spent quite a bit of time on sharpening.  The most important thing I learned was that I’ve been doing it all wrong, and badly to boot.  I now have a specific goal – become proficient in using software to sharpen my images!

In the book Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom, authors Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe begin the discussion on sharpening with, “…one of the ways our brains try to make sense of the world as seen through our eyes is by breaking down the scene into edges (objects) and non-edges (surfaces). If the edges in an image appear too sharp or not sharp enough, our brains tell us that there’s something wrong, and in the case of a photograph, the image appears unconvincing.”  Bruce and Jeff tell us that, “Sharpening works by increasing the contrast around edges.”  (Contrast is the difference between light and dark tonal values.)  And so begins my journey into the wide world of sharpening!  Since I’m just beginning my venture into sharpening, I don’t have anything to show you.  I will soon – I promise.

What have I been doing besides reading about sharpening?  Let’s look at some pictures!

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From the winter photography workshop – this is the view across the road from Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley CA. As I said, the snow was deep. Sorensen’s got a foot of new snow the night before the workshop and several inches while we were there. They were expecting another three feet that night!

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Same picture, just a little bit different editing technique. Could be a nice Christmas card!

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I ventured into Diamond Valley looking for Eagles and found this tree covered in Pogonip (heavy frost). I made this image before the frost melted away.

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A recent storm dropped several inches of snow at my house. This is a Spruce tree in my backyard…

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…one of the Austrian Pines…

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…and one of the clumped Crab Apple trees in my backyard. The apples help feed the little birds all winter long.

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I found this Rough Legged Hawk near Genoa last week. As I was shooting, the Magpie flew into the shot.  How lucky for me!

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A couple days later, I found the Rough Legged Hawk again – this time on a fence post. He launched…

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…soared gracefully, close to the snow-covered ground…

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…and pounced on his noon meal!

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The Kestrels have been out in force. I came on this little fella’ just south of David Walley’s Hot Springs on Foothill Road…

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…and his friend north of Genoa. They always give me a good look before they take off!

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This Cooper’s Hawk was sitting on the snow pile when I first saw him. He launched as I was taking pictures.

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I added a new tool to my toolbox – a 2X teleconverter! My big lens now has a maximum focal length of 1200 mm! While this is wonderful, the longer focal length comes with a new set of challenges. Using a tripod is a must. Autofocus only works in Live View (not a bad thing on tripod anyway). The longer focal length exacerbates any movement or imperfections in focusing, and depth of field is very shallow at any aperture setting. It’s a tool, however, and only a matter of learning how to use it! This is the first image at 1200 mm. Not bad!

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This is my second attempt with the teleconverter. This Eagle was 173 yards away (I bought a rangefinder) and the background looks like heat waves, although it was near freezing when I made the image. A little soft, but he looks good nonetheless.

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The Eagles have been in town. I seemed to find this one hanging out at the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park rather frequently.

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I think he’s in his final year of being a juvenile, based on the coloring in his head feathers.

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His ‘pensive’ pose…

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This is a different Bald Eagle (note the lack of dark feathers in his head), using his ‘regal’ pose!

One of the fun things for me was having one subject in the same spot on different days and different lighting conditions, then playing with the processing for a different interpretation of each image.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my images, and I promise to be sharper in the future!

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR